ELT Traveller box

about teaching English to young learners, web tools and iPad teaching

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Technology: what am I expecting from learners?

This is a short post about what we are expecting students to do with technology. I have been thinking about it quite often in the last few weeks. Starting the school year with the iPad, forgetting blackboard and chalk had an impact on me as a teacher, but it was also a significant change for learners. What are they expecting to learn with technology? Why am I using the latest tech tools and apps for? I found some interesting answers a couple of days ago on this picture shared by EdTechReview (@etr_in) on Twitter.


I think sometimes technology can make teachers and learners confused about objectives, outcomes, tools and aims. It would be worth making a clear list before starting to use tech tools  and apps in the classroom.


Surprise in the ELT classroom: an inspiring #ELTChat

Last night I took part in #ELTChat . It’s always very motivating to read and contribute to each other’s reflections and teaching ideas. After all I first got the idea of blogging right from one #eltchat on twitter. I would definitely add it as “must have” in a teacher development plan :-).

The topic of this week was Bringing the surprise element into your lesson, you can read the transcript here.

You’ll get several ideas on how to surprise your students either you teach university students, BE, one-to-one or teenagers, like I do.

In the chat @SueAnnan mentioned the book 52 by The Round  (authors Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings). I love it. Today I was reflecting about it and I thought how helpful a book like this can be for teachers, especially teenager teachers.  They can surprise their audience in a very reflective way.

I start thinking I should give my students a “subversive” lesson once a week. 🙂 I’ve only tried (and sometimes adapted) only a few of the activities in the book so far.

There are many  ideas in the book, from poetry to justice. Lesson 8 Dress is part of the book sample (you can download it here) and one of my favourite. I’ve recently tried it.

The lesson – #8 Dress

I came to class dressed very elegant (as I was going to a wedding), quite unusual for me, and I tried not to laugh looking at my students’ faces. I started the lesson as usual and for the first 5 minutes nothing really happened. They were expecting me to work on past simple, and I was starting to do so when a shy student from the first raw asked about my skirt. “Why are you wearing such a nice and elegant skirt to come to school?” It was clear she didn’t approve that :-). Teenagers can be very straightforward sometimes! I wrote why on the board, and asked the student to repeat the question to the class. The conversation magically started. The very good thing was that I was playing the role of the moderator. I divided the class into groups and asked them to figure out how to dress in specific occasions and why. A lot of new vocabulary items came out.

When the bell rung, a girl said “But teacher, we didn’t even take a pen!”

That was the point…and they got it!

In the following lessons I focused on consolidation activities. It was easy, they remembered most of the things we discussed.

Teachers often complain about how difficult is to manage teenagers with no written support. Several questions keep rolling through my mind:

Do teenagers need minimal inputs to develop critical thinking? Should teachers start thinking out of the box and support them?


Storytelling tools for ESL students #1 Storybird

I believe storytelling is a very powerful teaching resource for young learners. They feel comfortable with it, and when they read or listen to a story they stop caring about “understanding every single word” of it. Very often they let the story flow, and enjoy themselves.

Teachers are used to work on storytelling activities to engage their learners. This is definitely true also for me, but what is the balance among different skills activities?

I used to focus more on receptive skills – listening and reading tasks usually followed by comprehension activities or semi-controlled practice (complete the sentence, re-write it etc.). To be honest, I was quite afraid of using free-production writing task with young elementary learners. Then I thought it was time to change, and I started using Storybird with my classes.

Storybird is an amazing creative writing tool. Students can create their own art-inspired stories, collaborate and give feedback on other’s stories.

It is free, and it gives teachers the chance to sign up for a teacher account and manage students without emails. You can create assignments, and even build your class library.

How to use it in class –   Younger teens

  • Start reading a classic book, or part of it, in class. I use graded readers (A1/A2) of famous stories like The Wizard of Oz, Alice adventures in Wonderland etc. This will take around 6-8 lessons, and it will give students a model story. At this point it is useful to focus on character’s descriptions, setting, time, organisation of events.
  •       When the book is over, ask students to write/tell/present a summary of the story based only on pictures. Find pictures on the web, mix them and then distribute them to the class, each group can work on a different part of the   story.
  • It’s time for a Storybird! Put students in pairs, set up a class on your teacher profile and give them an assignment. You can specify the number of pages, grammar tenses, specific functions you want students to use etc. At the end they can publish their stories on the site and/or buy them.

You can even have a Book Club Ceremony 🙂


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Teaching listening to teenage learners #1

Using top down strategies

The more you can predict, the easier it becomes to understand” (Lingzhu, 2003).

Shadows - by @eltpics

Much of my teaching has been with Italian teenage elementary learners (CEFR A1-A2) in quite large classes (around 30 pupils). Because of the number of students the situation has not always been simple for listening activities and most of my learners often complain about how frustrating listening can be. One of them has recently made the following comment: “ When I listen to a story in Italian I’m able to understand everything before the end, when I listen to it in English I feel I don’t understand anything!”. I then asked him: “How do you listen in Italian?” All the class reacted with a choral “I don’t know!”. Younger teenage elementary learners often completely avoid the role of context and co-text in L2 even if they unconsciously use them in L1. This was the principle motivation behind my choice to investigate how to train elementary learners to predict in listening class. This is the first of a series of articles about the analysis of top down/bottom up strategies when listening, the issues for learners, and some suggestions for teaching.

Top-down and Bottom-up processing

According to Richards (2008) two different kinds of processes are involved in understanding spoken discourse. These are often referred to as bottom-up and top-down processing. Both processing are applicable to reading and listening.

Bottom-up processing (BUP) refers to the use of the listener’s linguistic competence. Therefore, the direction of bottom-up processing is from language to meaning.

Top-down processing (TDP), on the other hand, refers to “the use of background knowledge in understanding the meaning of a message” (Richards, 2008:7). Background knowledge refers to the knowledge of the world that the listener has developed in his/her life. It may be previous knowledge about the topic, situational knowledge, or knowledge stored in long-term memory about the events and the links between them (Richards, 1990). Richards refers to this background knowledge as schemata and scripts that a listener activates to understand a text. Top-down processing consequently goes from meaning to language.

In order to have successful comprehension both bottom-up and top-down processing are needed. According to Richards (1990) bottom-up processing alone is often not sufficient for comprehension, so the listener should be able to make proper use of top-down processing.

I will now focus on some approaches to the teaching of top-down processing and predicting content in particular, therefore bottom-up processing will not be further discussed.

Top-down processing: subskills

As stated above, in using prior knowledge about people and events comprehension proceeds from the top down. Examples of top-down processing subskills include:

  • assigning places, persons, or things to categories;
  • inferring cause-and-effect relationships;
  • anticipating outcomes
  • inferring the topic of a discourse
  • inferring the sequence between events

(Richards, 1990:52)

A good strategic listener is usually able to select and plan which subskills will activate in a particular situation. I have noticed that in second language learning top-down processing ability in listening is not very well developed. In this respect I believe the ability to predict content plays a key role.

Predicting content: context and co-text 

According to Goh (1998), predicting enables the listener to anticipate the next part of a text, such as a word, a phrase or an idea. Therefore, the process of prediction involves listeners in selecting useful information from their own general experience and knowledge in order to identify text content (Lingzhu, 2003). Continue reading

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Reflections on classroom management

If you teach young learners and teenagers, you’ve probably considered to attend a classroom management workshop at least once in you career. So, a few weeks ago I had mine :-).  I think many practical aspects of this workshop will be very useful.

I really appreciated the overview on the wide range of meanings of “Classroom management” and I loved the “deal with people” approach, being a teacher means manage things and manage people at the same time.

But overall there are two main topics that particularly captured my attention and that I will always bring with me in the future.

One is the focus on the different learning styles. I like the idea that we deal with them in our everyday classes and we should be able to give our students proper activities. Creating the conditions to make pupils able to express themselves is interesting and motivating.

The second topic is the idea that there will always be good and bad moments and that we should always continue to learn from each situation. The balance of uptime and downtime and the learning-to-learn message helps me to do this job with the right approach. I am now looking at it with both enthusiasm and criticism, fully aware I am a long-life learner.

I have also made myself a summary of the six key points I should consider in managing a class:

  1. My role: knowing myself and my students; always be ready and aware of my abilities; do not stop self-development.
  2. My class: remember the main rules on grouping and seating; create a positive and purposeful atmosphere.
  3. My activities: setting up, giving instructions, managing time and space, how to end an activity.
  4. My authority: gathering and holding attention, decide who does what, getting someone to do something.
  5. Deal with critical moments: starting and finishing the lesson, dealing with unexpected problems, deal with difficult students, managing difficult behaviour in the classroom.
  6. Tools and techniques: using the board and  classroom equipment.

…and why do I teach?

Today I have many reasons that commit me to this job. Teaching is facing a new challenge everyday; it means being part of students’ development, acting as crucial and significant support.

When I think about me in a classroom, I have clear ideas about the climate I am seeking to set up. I always try to work hard to have a purposeful, positive and cooperative atmosphere in class. I think it is crucial for a teacher to be able to create a positive relationship and a positive learning atmosphere. After all, the way I will relate to my learners will have a significant impact in the lesson. At any classroom moment, I know there will be a range of possible situations to handle.

Respect – In any kind of environment showing respect to people is a building block for a cooperative and purposeful relationship. Especially in a teaching environment I find respect is a positive and non-judgmental regard for the student. My personal way to show students that I really trust them goes through responsibilities. At first, I focus on the more difficult pupils in the class and I give them small responsibilities to work on (i.e. small organizational work for the following lesson). The idea is to make them aware of their own possibilities; I would like them to develop self-confidence. I believe that a class where students feel that the teacher trust them is a more collaborative class.

Students’ opinions should be always taken into consideration; they should be an active part of the class. A teacher should never forget that her/his role is to make pupils able to work in a cooperative environment; to think that their personal contributions will help to reach the entire class goal. This is why I love role plays and group works: students have the chance to develop both personal and teamwork skills.

At the end of the day, I like being authentic and finding my personal approach to create empathy with the students. Probably having a good ability in setting a purposeful and happy climate is not everything, but it is a positive start.

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My favorite web tools for teens

I’ve recently given a presentation on integrating technology in the language classroom. I teach large YL classes and in the last year I’ve been trying different web tools to motivate and involve students in learning English through different activities. The presentation shows a selection of my favorite web tools to get students speaking, listening, writing and creating short video stories.